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Die Villen von Siena und ihre Bauherren: Architektur und Lebenswirklichkeit im fruhen 16. Jahrhundert.

Gerda Bodefeld. Die Villen von Siena und ihre Bauherren: Architektur und Lebenswirklichkeit im fruhen 16. Jahrhundert.

Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag GmbH, 2003. 216 pp. illus. tbls. map. gloss. bibl. [euro]49. ISBN: 3-496-01273-0.

Gerda Bodefeld's book brings welcome attention to the architectural achievements of Siena in its territory outside the city during the years before the republic fell to Florence in 1555. It is now recognized that Siena's art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries--especially in panel and fresco painting, but also in sculpture and urban planning and architecture--was brilliant, elegant, and innovative. Compared to its rival Florence, Siena accomplished these achievements in an environment that was conservative and insular. The country estates are visual manifestations not only of this combined conservatism and innovation, but of historical realities that affected landholding patterns as the city went into decline. Incompetent leadership and natural disasters played their roles in changing reality for the people of this part of Tuscany.

Outside the city, landholding proprietors commissioned sturdy villas that are the subjects of this book about architecture and the daily realities of economic, social, and political life around 1500. Bodefeld studies the history, ownership, and function of twenty-six country estates in the Sienese Republic. The book is published in an architectural guide series. As such, it can be celebrated for its comprehensive scope and criticized for its superficial incompleteness.

Bodefeld describes the "Peruzzi style" developed by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), the Sienese architect who worked in Rome and returned to his native city after the Sack of Rome in 1527 to become architect to the republic. She summarizes the architectural characteristics, including the bricks, loggias, and courtyards, and includes plans and elevations. She considers the villas' predecessors and followers, and factors that explain the building boom around 1500. With state support under Pandolfo Petrucci, land became available to wealthy citizens through severe taxation and expropriation of the peasants' common lands. Bodefeld cites the high percentage, 70.9%, of collective wealth invested in real estate compared to 13.5% in trade, banking, and artisanal production in 1488. Real estate investment was a hedge against the depredations of war, hunger, and disease. Meanwhile, peasants were exploited. In this social and economic milieu, the oligarchy built elaborate villas. Consideration of related scholarship in Italy and elsewhere and citations to related recent work on Renaissance Sienese economics, architectural history, and patronage by William Caferro and Fabrizio Nevola, for example, would have been welcome.

Yet Bodefeld shows enormous respect for significant detail and synthesizes clearly and forthrightly. Drawn to this subject after a productive career in newspaper journalism, she brings a journalist's method of headlining questions followed by succinct answers and conclusions drawn from gathered data. Based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Kassel in 2002, Bodefeld's book follows publications on Venetian and Tuscan villas and gardens, coauthored with Berthold Hinz, in several editions (1987-98). The villas' locations and accessibility as of 2003 are stated in the margins. Privately owned, many are now renovated for modern comfort. Their precarious preservation makes research on this subject urgent. Bodefeld observes significant fading on a fresco in the Villa Montosoli since 1985.

A schematic map locating each villa is on the inside back cover. Four villas, Montosoli, Medane, Vicobello, and La Fratta are discussed at length. Examples of villas are catalogued, with illustrations that are current photographs or drawings by Ettore Romagnoli (1836-40). Villas are organized chronologically and alphabetically within centuries: Grotti, and Montegiachi (fifteenth); Sant'Apollinare, L'Apparita, Argiano, Belcaro, Brandi, Casabianca, Santa Colomba, Maggiano, Monticello, and La Suvera (sixteenth); La Buoninsegna, Cetinale, Fagnano, Finetti, La Palazzina, and Placidi (seventeenth); and Geggiano and Santa Regina (eighteenth). Palazzo Venturi and Le Volte are also discussed. Transcribed archival documents, with author's commentary and inventories of goods including animals and a genealogy of the landowning Venturi family, complete the reference material. The final color image is Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Sala della Pace fresco (1337-39) in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico, which depicts the countryside at peace and affirms the interdependence of city and country.

Bodefeld's concise book will undoubtedly pique interest in the Sienese Renaissance country estates. Attractively designed, the paperback includes a glossary of basic and specialized terms to make the subject accessible to German-speaking nonspecialists. Bodefeld's multifaceted approach yields insights that will reward the careful reader. It is now possible to address Sienese villas in three contexts: architectural history, interior furnishings and extant or lost art, and economic history.


Miami University
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Author:Southard, Edna Carter
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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